…and if Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play my tune today – it would be a victory march.
But it could have been a funeral march.
As I write this, it is the eve of my anniversary of sobriety – on July 18th, I will have been clean and sober for 24 years.
Looking back on it, the time has flown by, even though in the early years it was sometimes difficult to not give up and give in to my addictions. If anyone had told me then that I’d be celebrating 24 years of sobriety from mind-altering substances today, I definitely would have thought they were crazy.
The gratitude I feel about my life today is immense. Everything is so different now than it was back then. I think the most amazing change is that I now truly like and respect myself – something that was fleeting, at best, before embarking on my rocky, stumbling and eventually rock-solid path to recovery.
In 1973, when I was in my early 20’s, I suddenly and unexpectedly became very ill, eventually being diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease – an extremely painful and debilitating inflammatory bowel illness much like the more well-known colitis. Because the doctors didn’t have a clue how to treat Crohn’s at that time, they did what they knew to do – prescribe drugs, lots of them. I was given as much Valium, codeine, and Demerol (the OxyContin of its day) as I requested, and for many years took them all faithfully just like the doctor ordered.
Unfortunately, not much was known about addiction at that time. In fact, the concept of drug addiction never came up in conversation with those doctors when I went in, time and time again, to get my prescriptions refilled. I think because they felt so powerless to help me, with their limited understanding of this disease that was virtually crippling my life, they just wanted to do what they could to get me out of their offices.
At least, that’s how it often felt to me.
So on and on it went – years of prescription drugs as well as the marijuana that I began using on a daily basis, to take away the emotional pain of having an illness that no one wanted to talk about. After all, diarrhea and constipation weren’t appropriate topics of conversation amongst the people I hung out with – that is, when I wasn’t hiding out in my apartment with the drapes closed and the phone unplugged, high as a kite, but falling fast.
By the Spring of 1987, I had been ingesting all of these substances for nearly 15 years — thoroughly addicted to them, as any human body would be after that much exposure. I didn’t understand at that time that Valium, codeine, Demerol, and pot are all depressants in the human body – but what I was very aware of was that I was so emotionally depressed that I had become suicidal. Not that I truly wanted to die – I just knew I couldn’t go on the way I was living.
Even after all these years, I can clearly recall the day I began thinking in earnest about this. I was at work, not feeling well — as was often the case. As I was lying down on a couch in the break room, I realized I had more than enough pills to kill myself. And if I timed it right, no one would find me for several days. I suddenly discovered that I was actually creating a plan for how I could do it….
Sick and addicted though I was – this experience scared me enough to make the choice to reach out for help. And I am so deeply grateful that there were caring and skillful people there to answer my calls.
For the past 24 years, I have been on my spiritual journey of recovery – from drugs, alcohol, and several other addictive behaviours I have used to hide from the difficult life I had led since childhood. And this journey has yielded the most amazing results, allowing me to now live a life I hadn’t even been able to dream of!
Today I am proud of myself. That wasn’t something I ever felt while in the state of active addiction. I have become a successful therapist in private practice here in Vancouver, helping others to understand and discover the triggering issues lying underneath the symptom of addiction – which is what addiction is, in my view – a symptom of deeper issues and pain that needs to be felt and explored, ideally with therapy and/or peer support. I now help other people to understand their self-sabotaging patterns so that they can lead the lives they truly want. I am a published author of a successful book that has helped countless people and families navigate the tough waters of addiction. Almost every day, I receive notes and e-mails from people telling me how much it has helped them get off the roller-coaster chaos of addiction, maintain their own serenity, and live their best lives.
After years of scrambling for my rent money, I live today in a lovely home in the West End of Vancouver near English Bay. I am blessed to have people in my life who love me, and who I am able to love back – which isn’t something I was able to have in my addiction.
And as a result of my intentional and holistic self-care, my Crohn’s Disease –supposedly an illness that cannot be cured — has been in remission with very minimal symptoms for over 15 years.
Who knew any of this could happen?
I ingested my last Valium and smoked my very last joint 24 years ago today. Little did I know how awesome this journey would be. It was the best decision I ever made.
Happy Birthday to me — Sgt. Pepper, strike up the band!